A leak in the blood-brain barrier could be to blame for the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to a study published Monday in Nature Neuroscience.
The chances of halting or slowing down the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s depends largely upon early diagnosis and researchers from the University of Southern California suggest scientists focus on early warning signs within the brain's circulation system.
Berislav Zlokovic, a co-author of the review, noted the blood-brain barrier could serve as an important biomarker and potential drug target for neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis.
“Cognitive impairment, and accumulation in the brain of the abnormal proteins amyloid and tau, are what we currently rely upon to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, but blood-brain barrier breakdown and cerebral blood flow changes can be seen much earlier,” said Zlokovic, according to Science Daily. statement.
Alzheimer's is irreversible and understanding the first step in the disease process is essential in treating it.
Currently, an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer's dementia, The Alzheimer’s Association noted.
This number includes roughly 5.5 million people older than 65-years of age, and approximately 200,000 people younger than 65-years who have younger-onset Alzheimer's.
Zlokovic and his team chose to focus on the blood-brain barrier, which functions as a filtration system that prevents viruses, bacteria and blood from entering the brain while letting in glucose and amino acids.
Leaks in the blood-brain barrier could allow a protein called amyloid into the brain, triggering an accumulation of the protein which could kill brain cells.
“Something is off with the system when that happens,” said Arthur Toga, who belonged to the team of researchers. “Healthy people have amyloid in their bodies. When the system is dysregulated, amyloid can build up and cells die off.”
Zlokovic noted that their findings demonstrated “why healthy blood vessels are so important for normal brain functioning.”
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